The Last Hunter (1980)
By: Mr Intolerance on January 19, 2010  | 
DVD
Dark Sky Films (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0. English Subtitles. 96 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Antonio Margheriti
Starring: David Warbeck, Tisa Farrow, Tony King, Bobby Rhodes, John Steiner, Margit Evelyn Newton
Screenplay: Dardano Sacchetti
Country: Italy
External Links
Purchase IMDB YouTube
No-one quite blows up the jungle like Antonio Margheriti. The director, who made his mark with a brace of mid-sixties sci-fi flicks and went on to work in as many different action genres as he could, was a keen fan of special effects, being very hands-on with them in his own productions. And boy, did he like to blow things up. It's just as well then that The Last Hunter, set in the dog days of the Vietnam War, allowed him plenty of scope to do so.

Originally conceived as a cash-in on the success of The Deer Hunter (to the point where the original title was The Deer Hunter 2, later dropped for the rather obvious legal reasons), The Last Hunter was shot mainly in the Philippines (the first of roughly a dozen Margheriti action/adventure films to be so) with a cast who'd be quite familiar to fans of Italian exploitation and action films from back in the day, on a number of sets from Apocalypse Now. The story's got that kind of ring of familiarity about it that you'd expect from an exploitation film, particularly one from the glory days of the Italian industry. This is in itself kind of odd, as The Last Hunter was among the very first (along with Margheriti's Cannibal Apocalypse) of the Italian Vietnam War/jungle action flicks. But anyway: it's 1973, the tail end of the Vietnam War and Captain Harry Morris (David Warbeck, The Beyond, Tiger Joe, Hunters of the Golden Cobra) is burnt out, dejected and horrified at the sudden suicide of a friend and fellow soldier. I think he's more than usually horrified by the fact that his pal Steve blows his own brains out in front of Harry, in a nightclub after shooting another US soldier in the face. Cue: VC attack on the club and the adjacent fuel depot and train station, and the first of many of those explosions I was talking about, as well as our first few glimpses of the miniatures Margheriti was similarly famous for using. Beats CG any day.

Anyway, Harry goes behind enemy lines into the jungle to meet up with a group of soldiers; their mission: to destroy a radio tower the Viet Cong have been using to spread anti-American propaganda to the already dispirited US troops. There's one slight problem however – the radio tower is in VC territory. Morris manages to rendezvous with his small band of men who are also accompanied by a foreign photojournalist with the decidedly un-foreign name Jane Foster (Tisa Farrow, Zombie Flesh Eaters, Anthropophagus), who the soldiers have to take back to their base as well. Harry is less than thrilled about the prospect of having her with his motley assortment of troops – Wash, his African/American second in command, Carlos, a Puerto Rican, Stinker Smith, the token honky, and Hoo Flung Dung, a friendly Vietnamese national, and whose name (say it aloud) I'm assuming is a particularly bad joke.

It wouldn't be a Vietnam War flick without booby-traps and ambushes, so we get some of those, mainly, I'm assuming, because nothing has blown up for the last five minutes or so. And the ambush just shows you why the Italians (and particularly Margheriti) made these films so well – it's violent as all hell with some fine gore gags and doesn't stop for a second. I did have to question Tisa Farrow's character here – do real human beings try to get happy snaps during the middle of a skirmish with automatic weapons and grenades by kneeling down in the middle of a wide-open space, despite the fact there's ample cover? No, I didn't think so. Farrow's performance is pretty poor, even by the wooden standards of exploitation films – she just seems to stare vacantly into the middle distance and mouth her lines with all the emotive range of a telephone book recital.

It's a shame really, as otherwise the performances are one of the most enjoyable aspects of The Last Hunter, with everyone bar Farrow looking like they're having a whale of a time, and David Warbeck in particular shines. You can see why Margheriti worked with him on a number of other films. Warbeck is a kind of "Everyman" hero – he doesn't have the imposing build of a Schwarzeneggar or the over-the-top camp macho persona of Reb Brown or Mark Gregory – he generates a point of audience sympathy more immediately and effectively by simply being an average Joe.

After a brief stop for some character development, Harry has an equally brief dream sequence, complete with grainy stock footage of US troops in Vietnam, as well as his mission briefing, and some pre-War footage with Harry horsing around with Steve (the fella with a bad case of gun-in-mouth blues from the opening scene), and Steve's gal Carol (the always lovely Margit Evelyn Newtown, Hell of the Living Dead). Certain elements of the plot will no doubt be becoming rapidly obvious to the viewer at this moment, but I ain't saying nuffink.

Anyway, one more booby-trap later and Harry and his posse have made it to the last US base this side of VC territory, led by the bitter and hilarious Major Cash (John Steiner, Caligula, Striker, munching on the scenery so hard you fear for his teeth!), who gets all of the film's best lines. My favourite would have be the rather mystifying, "I can see the writing on their balls." No, I don't know what it means either. Cash is an extremely unhappy camper who believes himself to have been marooned and deserted by Command and lets loose with a very funny tirade of bile to this effect at Harry. What's less funny is the way Cash's men take a predatory interest in Jane – the whole episode in the camp provides some uneasy laughs; obviously it's there to provide some light relief from the killing, but like I said, it's kind of still more than just tinged with a nasty darkness. And the inappropriate soundtrack at one point makes it feel as though someone's telling a joke that even they know isn't funny.

What's even stranger is that this is the moment where the director intercuts the attempt at broad comedy with one of those "war is hell" speeches – you know, the ones where the hero gets all existential and someone else talks about man's inhumanity to man and such like. Seemed like a strange place to shoehorn it in, and apart from anything else, in terms of the film's pacing it only helps to add to the "second act slump" feeling I'd started getting after the village ambush. But then the VC mount an attack on the US base, Jane is captured and the action goes from zero to a hundred at the drop of a hat. Watching this scene, one thing became apparent to me – there just aren't enough flame-throwers in films these days.

Harry has to keep on with his mission, though and has some unlikely help in getting a sampan to go up river on. Thankfully the mayhem and gunfire are still continuing at this point – we certainly don't need another respite like the last one. And believe me, we don't get one. Y'see, the best laid plans usually aren't worth jack shit in exploitation films, and when the final act begins and Harry finds himself in a pretty bad position in a VC base, you know that things are only going to get even more gleefully outrageous than they already have been. Watch and find out what happens to Harry and his mission – it's a real hoot. Especially watch the truly amazing overacting of the leader of the Viet Cong camp – jaw-droppingly funny stuff (he mugs and gurns like he's having a stroke or a seizure, and a little known military fact is revealed – when commanding your troops, obviously orders given while flailing your arms like a spastic windmill are going to be so much more effective), especially after we've just seen some poor dude get eaten by rats… The final scene comes completely out of left field, by the way – I'm still a little puzzled by what the whole thing meant.

The special effects are definitely deserving of an equally special mention. There's plenty of gruesome gore, with more explosions, fire and squib hits than you could wave a stick at, not to mention some pretty gnarly appliance and prosthetic wound work which puts a smile on the face of a grumpy old man like me. I don't hate CG, but when it's poorly rendered it jars you out of the film you're watching. On-screen effects are almost always more effective (you don't need a huge budget to make them work), particularly when, as they are here, they're done by a master craftsman with a love of his craft. Top notch stuff, folks.

Oh, and for the record, The Last Hunter is a hell of a lot more fun than The Deer Hunter. And it's got a lot more re-watch value, too.
Video
Dark Sky do not release inferior product, and the video quality you get here is testimony to this. The film is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, anamorphically enhanced. Better yet, the print, which from the credit sequence seems to have been sourced from a French copy, is looking a lot better than you'd have any right to expect. It's a clear picture with no grain, artefacts or any of the video glitches you'd worry about getting from a thirty year old low budget Italian exploitation film. I wish more distributors were as exacting with video quality as Dark Sky.
Audio
Definitely up to the task at hand is the English 2.0 mono dub track, although with all of those explosions you can't help but wonder what a surround track of The Last Hunter would sound like. And I have to say that Franco Micalizzi's score is pretty neat with its 70s funk vibe, although the song that plays out over the end credits is a little too earnest for my tastes; reminded me somehow of that "Burning Bridges" toon from Kelly's Heroes.
Extra Features
Not a terribly comprehensive package, but considering that a number of the key players have rather sadly passed away, it would have been difficult to round up a lot of fresh interviews. That said, the 23 minute featurette that you do get, "Margheriti and The Last Hunter", is quite an informative one. It's an interview with the director's son – Eduardo Margheriti, who was not only assistant director, but also in the cast as "Stinker Smith", one of Warbeck's motley crew. There aren't too many spoilers, but I'd still recommend watching the film first. It's quite a fascinating insight from the inside not only on The Last Hunter, but also on Margheriti's films, and the Italian film industry of the day. Besides the featurette, you get the original trailer (at four minutes long it manages to include more spoilers than the featurette that's six times as long as it), and a stills gallery. 
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
A rollicking two-fisted adventure, The Last Hunter is a fun if at times mean-spirited film which, if you're any kind of fan of war movies, action adventure films or Italian exploitation from back in the day, you really ought to watch. Hollywood would never have made a Vietnam War flick like this in 1980, and I honestly think considering what befalls some of the characters here, they probably still wouldn't today. Despite the slump in the middle third of the film, I'd still recommend The Last Hunter to you quite highly indeed.

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